Opponents of national board certification argue that these schools place only passing emphasis on future teachers' mastery of the subject matter they will teach their students. Those are, of course, the same educational programs from which many of the current education officials themselves graduated. Of course, they are loathe to admit that there are more intellectually productive routes to fulfilling, productive teaching careers according to Robert Holland. (Holland, 2002)
Since 1987, the education powers-that-be have taken that dictum to a higher level via the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Through this entity -- which is lavishly funded by elite foundations and the government -- they assert that national certifying of teachers according to the prevailing intellectual standards of the education-school establishment will create a fleet of master teachers who will be instrumental in elevating the state of public-school teaching. (Holland, 2002)
Recently the certification-as-usual mindset has come under challenge, most importantly by the United States Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act as a member of the Bush Administration, Paige has "disputed any notion that the Act's call for placement of a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom means that every teacher should be highly certified by the standard educationist yardstick." (Holland, 2002)
In fact, Paige has championed the idea of bringing in able persons to teaching from the liberal arts disciplines or after valuable real world experience in other career paths. Candidates can demonstrate that hey are highly qualified by passing stringent examinations of academic content and teaching skills, as opposed to simply presenting transcripts of completed education-school courses.
In addition, under Paige, the Department of Education has given a $5 million grant to a new organization that is proposing an alternative model of national teacher certification based on stringent standards of academic achievement as opposed to education-school theory. Still, certification proponents can expect a battle royal over teacher licensing and certification to continue for many years to come. Hard-line education-establishment officials in the teacher unions and education bureaucracies will not yield sanguinely to the idea of intellectual diversity. "In response to Secretary Paige's fresh thinking, they have been rallying around the NBPTS as well as the other, longer established instruments of centralized control of teacher preparation and certification." (Holland, 2002)
Does certification truly make one a better teacher?
In its totality, the most critical query about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is whether it makes a positive difference in the American classroom. A fierce disagreement rages over that point. One of the leading critics -- Michael Podgursky, chairperson of the economics department at the University of Missouri/Columbia -- has long contended that the education establishment has commissioned "no rigorous study" to ascertain if students in the classroom NBPTS-certified teachers learn more than do students in the classroom of other teachers. (Holland, 2002)
Podgursky argues that an analysis of NBPTS funded by $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Education failed any recognized test of effectiveness because it rejected out of hand taking students' standardized test scores into account. Unsurprisingly, Betty Castor, the president of NBPTS, disagreed entirely. As evidence, Castor pointed at a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina/Greensboro that examined 65 teachers who had applied for the national certification, approximately half of whom received it. (Holland, 2002)
This team -- funded by the U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS -- found that the certified teachers did noticeably better on "most of the "dimensions of teaching expertise" that NBPTS assesses in its standards. But these Dimensions exude a subjective quality -- for instance, one assaying "multidimensional perception," defined as "demonstrating a deeper understanding of students' verbal and non-verbal responses, and using this information to prioritize instruction." Given that it was by such murky yardsticks that the NBPTS candidates were measured, it was no surprise that those winning certification did better that those that did not. That's in fact self-obvious. The still-unanswered question is: Does that make any difference in the classroom in terms of what students achieve?" (Holland, 2002)
The Stone study is the either the most famous or infamous yardstick in measuring the effectiveness of national board certification for teachers, depending on the observer's viewpoint. Pulling from data from established by the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System for the 16 NBPTS-certified grades 3-8 teachers in Tennessee who have value-added teacher reports in the state database, Professor of Education J.E. Stone from East Tennessee State University found in May 2002 that the nationally board-certified teachers had not risen above average in bringing about increased achievement by their students. (Holland, 2002)
Examining the Stone study in detail is critical in discovering whether national certification for teachers is a positive development.
The 16 NBPTS certified teachers for whom TVAAS data are available are not exceptionally effective in terms of their ability to bring about exemplary student achievement. (Holland, 2002) With the exception of the above noted highs and lows, the achievement gains made by their students are no more impressive than those made by students who had other teachers. For instance, none of these teachers would have qualified for the bonus offered in Chattanooga. "Plainly, these findings are distinctly at odds with that which policymakers and the public have been given to understand about the quality of NBPTS certified teachers." (Stone, 2002)
An Education Week article titled "National Certification Found Valid for Teachers," NBPTS President Betty Castor said this of the UNCG study: "It gives us-parents, elected officials, and policymakers -- the absolute highest confidence that national-board-certified teachers are providing students with a high-quality learning experience." (Stone, 2002) According to Stone, her brash confidence was misplaced.
One of the questions Stone sought to answer was whether there is some chance that the teacher-effect scores earned by these classroom teachers in this report are misleadingly low?
Without a doubt, some of the scores reported in any study are underestimates and some are overestimates. This error goes with the territory. Annual guesses of the impact had by teachers on students' achievement in the classroom can be unstable but the errors in estimation tend to balance out when scores are considered in the aggregate, according to Stone.
As a practical guide for estimating how many scores are necessary to create an accurate measurement of a given teacher's performance, one must consider the number of test scores that factor into a student grade for a semester-long college course. "Assuming that a teacher in grades three through eight would have fifteen to twenty students, the estimated annual achievement gains for the teachers in this study are probably based on three or four times as many test scores as the typical college course grade. Stated a bit more technically, gain scores have a larger error component but TVAAS teacher-effect averages compensate by including a larger number of scores." (Stone, 2002)
Because Tennessee seeks to bestow upon teachers a much higher level of insurance or buffer against inaccurate assessments than is typically assured by college grading practices, Tennessee's use of "teacher effect" scores in annual teacher evaluations is statistically very conservative. A particular teacher is classified as above or below average only if his or her three-year rolling average is greater than two standard errors above or below the system mean.
Stone asked in his study whether it is necessary for a study of this kind to consider only three-year weighted averages?
Since the precise classification of particular teachers was not the primary goal of the Stone study, the restrictions appropriate to clinical application of these data are not essential. It should be mentioned, however, that none of the teachers for whom three years of data are available have an average of 115% performance, in any subject at all. In fact, with the exception of the Social Studies scores of Teacher 1 examined in the Stone study, none of the teachers with less than three years of data would even be close to achieving the 115% criterion without substantially improved second or third years. This means that, according to Stone, it is unlikely that any of the teachers in this study would have been classified as exceptional had 3 years of data been available, and this is a weighty realization indeed. (Stone, 2002)
Stone had to face the challenge of whether the 16 teachers in his study representative of all NBPTS-certified teachers.
Stone defended his work by noting that in any study, the available sample may misrepresent the population. This means that it is at least statistically possible that while none of these NBPTS teachers appears to be exceptional, the sixteen thousand or so others for whom teacher-effect scores are unavailable would be so classified.
"How plausible is this conclusion? Not very. One would have to presume that the present sample is an anomaly -- perhaps a…